Donald J Trump, the 45th President of the United States. Photo: White House

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Washington DC — US President Donald Trump has signed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 into law, a move that dramatically strengthened US policy on Tibet and reaffirmed the US government’s steadfast support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

The President of the Tibetan government in-Exile Monday thanked the US President Trump for signing the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020. CTA President Dr Lobsang Sangay said, "This legislation sends a powerful message of hope and justice to the Tibetans inside Tibet and bolsters US support for the protection of Tibetan people’s religious freedom, human rights, environmental rights and exile Tibetan democracy like never before".

The signing came after days of delay — the US Congress had approved of the omnibus spending bill, which had the TPSA attached, last week. By calling for larger stimulus checks in the COVID relief bill, Trump initially proclaimed he would not sign the omnibus spending bill until larger checks were made available for Americans. However, to avoid a government shutdown, Trump signed the spending bill.

The Statement of Policy regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama states: “It is the policy of the United States to take all appropriate measures to hold accountable senior officials of the Government of the People’s Republic of China or the Chinese Communist Party who directly interfere with the identification and installation of the future 15th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism, the successor to the 14th Dalai Lama”.

The newly enacted bill sends out a clear message of deterrence to the Chinese government that has and continues to meddle with the spiritual traditions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. The Government of the People’s Republic of China has interfered in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including in 1995 by arbitrarily detaining Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a 6-year old boy who was identified as the 11th Panchen Lama and purporting to install its own candidate as the Panchen Lama.

The bill categorically states that interference of the People’s Republic of China in decisions regarding His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation would amount to a violation of the fundamental religious freedoms of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.

It explicitly mentions imposing sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and prohibiting admission to the United States under section 212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and 20 Nationality Act. The State Department will also have to work at the international level to build support for Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to choose their own leaders without government interference.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s contribution to Tibetan democracy

The Statement of Policy on Democracy in the exile Tibetan community, states: “The 14th Dalai Lama advocates the Middle Way Approach, which seeks genuine autonomy for the 6,000,000 Tibetans in Tibet” and that “The 14th Dalai Lama has overseen a process of democratization within the Tibetan polity and devolved his political responsibilities to the elected representatives of the Tibetan people in exile in 2011”.

The bill enumerates the chronology of His Holiness’ step by step devolution of political authority to the democratically elected leader, or Sikyong, and commends the efforts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his decision to devolve political authority to elected leaders in accordance with democratic principles.

“The Dalai Lama should be commended for his decision to devolve political authority to elected leaders in accordance with democratic principles,” the policy states. It further commends the Tibetan exile communities around the world for the adoption of a system of self-governance with democratic institutions to choose their leaders”.

Acknowledgment of Central Tibetan Administration, Sikyong and the Middle Way Approach

Another significant aspect of the TPSA is the formal acknowledgment of the Central Tibetan Administration as the legitimate institution reflecting the aspirations of the Tibetan diaspora around the world and the Sikyong as the President of the CTA.

In fact, the Statement of Policy states: “As of the date of the enactment of this Act, the Central Tibetan Administration is the institution that represents and reflects, to the greatest extent, the aspirations of the Tibetan diaspora around the world, and the Sikyong is the President of the Central Tibetan Administration”.

As a matter of policy, the bill also formally acknowledges the Middle Way Approach, advocated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, that seeks genuine autonomy for the six million Tibetans in Tibet. It reiterates His Holiness statement that “the Central Tibetan Administration will cease to exist once a negotiated settlement has been achieved that allows Tibetans to freely enjoy their culture, religion, and language in Tibet.”

Protecting the environment and water resources on the Tibetan plateau

The bill introduces new key provisions aimed at protecting the environment and water resources on the Tibetan plateau. It recognizes the key role of the Tibetan plateau, often called as the third pole, in determining global climate change. The Tibetan Plateau contains glaciers, rivers, grasslands, and other geographical and ecological features that are crucial for supporting vegetation growth and biodiversity, regulating water flow and supply for an estimated 1.8 billion people. Environmental changes threaten the glaciers in Tibet that feed the major rivers of South and East Asia, which supply fresh water to an estimated 1.8 billion people.

But the so-called developmental activities by the Chinese government including the continuous damming of the Tibetan rivers for the Chinese hydroelectric power, the continuous diversion of rivers, and the coerced resettlement of Tibetan nomads who often play the role of environmental stewardship have led to environmental degradation of the Tibetan plateau.

The legislation, therefore, calls for greater international efforts to monitor the environment on the Tibetan plateau and also calls for the participation of Tibetan nomads and other Tibetan stakeholders in the preservation of the Tibetan plateau. Most importantly the bill calls for cooperative agreements among all riparian nations for transparency related to any kind of activities on rivers flowing from the Tibetan plateau.

Diplomatic Channels

The bill strengthens diplomatic efforts through the Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in the State Department to “promote substantive dialogue without preconditions, between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama, his or her representatives, or democratically elected leaders of the Tibetan community, or explore activities to improve prospects for dialogue, that leads to a negotiated agreement on Tibet”.

It mandates the Office to coordinate with other governments in multilateral efforts towards the goal of a negotiated agreement on Tibet; encourage the Government of the PRC to address the aspirations of the Tibetan people with regard to their distinct historical, cultural, religious, and linguistic identity; promote the human rights of the Tibetan 14 people; promote activities to preserve the environment and water resources of the Tibetan plateau; encourage that any initiatives or activities for Tibetan communities in the Tibet Autonomous Region are conducted in accordance with the principles espoused in section 616(d), and promote access to Tibet in accordance with the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018″.

Towards that end, the TPSA mandates for the establishment of a United States Consulate in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Until such an establishment, the bill calls upon the Secretary of State to not authorize any new Chinese consulate in the United States.

American citizens and companies engaged in business activities in Tibet are encouraged to practice corporate social responsibility and to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Strengthening of funding for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet

The TPSA authorizes a number of appropriations for Tibet and Tibetan related issues including (not less than) $8 million for Tibetan communities in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in other Tibetan communities in China; $6 million for Tibetan communities in India and Nepal; $3 million to strengthen the capacity of Tibetan institutions and governance in exile; over $3.4 million and $4 million respectively for Voice of America’s and Radio Free Asia’s reporting on Tibet and Tibetans; $1 million for Office of the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, among others.

The bill also recognizes the efforts of exiled Tibetan communities settled in South Asia for the preservation of culture, religion, and language and directs for developmental assistance for the sustainability of these settlements.